5. Batman Returns
Not everyone who dislikes Christmas does so because they're a Scrooge. As much as it's a time of coming together and thankfulness, it can also bring immense heart-ache, reminding us of those who aren't here anymore and shoddy circumstances. Batman Returns is a circus of misery for the ones that just want to get through Christmas and into January like nothing happened.
Nobody has a good time in Tim Burton's Batman sequel. A cirque-de-soleil of deception, anguish, and despondency, Batman is forced to work during the holidays to stop the Penguin from killing Gotham's first-born sons, Max Shreck from monopolizing Gotham's power supply, and Catwoman from getting revenge on Shreck for trying to kill her. Moody and eccentric, Burton's second Batman film is one of the best superhero sequels and, if you can see beyond the costumes, a great meditation on the struggle for those who don't really get to have Christmas.
4. A Christmas Story
Though bigger in the U.S. than elsewhere – where an entire channel shows the film on loop over the holidays – A Christmas Story is just a great, well, Christmas story. An adult Ralphie Parker narrates a set of vignettes of his childhood, centering around one Christmas, when he was nine years old, in which his dad surprised him with a Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model Air Rifle - his most-coveted present.
While the base story of Ralph being bullied in school but then getting the present he so desires as told by his older self is powerful enough with nostalgia, it's the broader family portrait that makes the movie what it is. The Parkers aren't a rich family and their home-life isn't perfect, but they're together, and it's the quiet moments where we see them as a unit that the real beauty of the movie, and its namesake period, shine through.
3. A Miracle On 34th Street (1947)
The drama inherent to “a man stands trial for believing he's Santa Clause” can be very different depending on your age, but by the end here, we're all on Kris Kringle's side, wanting the world to let this kind man be and let him and the children believe what they want.
A Miracle On 34th Street is a movie that's always verging on being indifferent to the mountains of TV movies Hallmark have produced for the festive period. But it remains a cut above because of the genuine commitment to the notion of putting a belief in Santa Clause on trial. The court-room scenes are biting and the Walker family discourse feels legitimate. If you want to convince someone in your life of the festive spirit, few are better to take the stand than Natalie Woods' Susan and Edmund Gwenn's Kris Kringle.
2. It's A Wonderful Life
The true Christmas epic. It's A Wonderful Life strikes at the heart of something we all need reminding of every once in a while – you matter. The world would be a lesser place if you never existed, and the people in your life would not be for the better.
The long, winding tale of George Bailey's success and subsequent downfall is not an easy watch by any stretch, but it's the tacit dedication to showing that good and bad happen to all of us that makes the movie what it is. There are moments, no matter how talented, dedicated, or well-to-do you are, where everything collapses and it all goes wrong. That's life, and unfortunately there's no angels around that'll stop you doing something you can't take back in the face of defeat. Instead we have this movie, with its affirmation that there is always hope.
1. The Muppet Christmas Carol
Everything is better with the Muppets, and a Christmas film based on the classic Christmas text is as good as it gets. From the opening number "Scrooge" through to the Kermit-led "One More Sleep 'til Christmas" to the Ghost of Christmas Present's rousing "It Feels Like Christmas" and the forever heartbreaking "Bless Us All," The Muppet Christmas Carol is a simple delight in the way only Jim Henson's wondrous ensemble are capable of.
The book, a dreary novel, is redone as an all-ages adventure that extols the virtues of companionship, charity, and caring for your fellow man. Gonzo and Rizzo are a comedy-duo for the ages as the narrators, the former playing Charles Dickens himself, and Kermit, Miss Piggy, and the rest play their parts perfectly, all dressed period-appropriate and bringing that sublime mix of cartoon and dramatic chops the Muppets are known for. Michael Caine is having the time of his life as Ebenezer Scrooge, somehow holding character as the ill-tempered miser no matter the zaniness that surrounds him. A work of genius on every level and the greatest Christmas film ever made.